The Washington, DC Auto Show
As a committed enthusiast of most things automotive (I’ve yet to bond with the dually, and only recently have developed any interest in Toyota’s Prius), I’ve also served as a committed drum beater for the Auto Show. Almost from their inception, new cars – and later trucks, and much later SUVs – have been put in front of the public at auto shows, typically organized by local dealer organizations. For the enthusiast there’s no better way to see what’s new. And for the consumer, there’s no better way – certainly no more efficient way – to compare competitive product on a back-to-back basis. For the above reasons (and as my own form of rationalization) I attended the preview day of the 2024 Washington, DC Auto Show.
And I gotta’ tell you: Without significant changes in the show’s organization and rollout, my attendance will be even more difficult to rationalize in 2025. Post-Covid, where we could do almost everything via Zoom (except that colonoscopy…), the importance of ‘feet on the ground’ was diminished. And as you’d guess from this vantage point, press launches no longer required a plane ticket; they only required a link. Since the pandemic I’m told the press launch – with plane tickets – has been revived, but the number of automotive OEMs skipping the auto show has only grown.
I could fill an entire article with a list of those automotive manufacturers not at Washington’s DC auto show, but to keep it concise know that almost all of the luxury carmakers – Audi (which is headquartered in nearby Reston, VA), BMW, Benz, Jaguar, Porsche and Genesis – were absent, with only Acura, Lexus and Volvo present and accounted for. Also – inexplicably – Tesla, Lucid and Polestar were in the convention center’s lower level, but it was essentially little more than cars parked, with almost no staging or signage. And the absence of luxury vehicles is made more inexplicable by the area’s wealth; within the DC, Virginia and Maryland zip codes you have some of the most concentrated wealth in the country. Drain the swamp? You’ll need to bring an armored tank truck.
The most notable absence was Stellantis, the corporate parent of Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and RAM trucks. Following the UAW strike Stellantis is reconsidering the value of the auto show, and to that end the area typically occupied by Stellantis was given to a small Nissan exhibit (I believe Nissan was brought up from its previous basement location) and an EV test track. The same decision was made for this fall’s Los Angeles auto show, and that absence is notable for a couple of reasons. First, with an evolving lineup which includes more electrification, there’s no better way to demonstrate that evolution than at the auto show. And if Stellantis is so cash-strapped following the strike, why does it carpet bomb local airwaves with almost non-stop Jeep and RAM advertisements? Better – I think – to get consumers into seats at the show, and later direct them to their area dealer.
Offsetting those absences was a significant presence provided by Acura, Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Kia, Nissan, Toyota and Lexus upstairs, along with Hyundai, Subaru and Volvo in the lower level. And to their collective credit, there was quite a bit of the ‘new’ that you hope to see at a January show. Acura features its all-new ZDX EV, while its Honda sibling – the Prologue – was parked immediately next door. At Lexus the display featured the adventure-oriented GX 550, while at Toyota the all-new Land Cruiser (coming to showrooms this summer?) was joined by the Grand(er) Highlander and wagon-esque Crown Signia.
For their proactive PR we give a shout-out to our colleagues at Toyota. They arranged a walkaround of Toyota’s aggressively re-engineered Camry, and that walkaround was both competent and complete. Most of the Camry changes are to its platform and content; all Camrys are now hybrid, while continuing to feature both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. Stylistic tweaks are just that – tweaks. But we’re promised heightened efficiency, all-season capability and a more engaging driving experience. So put down your iPhones, Middle America, and drive!
Korean carmaker Kia did its part by parking the all-new, 3-row EV 9 on the corner of its display, with pricing already announced. Its press launch took place at the same time as the DC show’s media preview, so there was no walkaround – only tires to be kicked.
Downstairs, with most of its square footage given to EV test tracks, Hyundai had the company’s refreshed Elantra, all-new Kona, all-new Santa Fe and still-feels-new Ioniq 6 front and center. The Ioniq 6 remains striking, and is a great argument for the 4-door sedan in the EV space.
For those still willing to identify as enthusiasts, Aston Martin, Ferrari and McLaren enjoyed a small display, augmented by a separate area for vintage Ferraris.
Identifying itself as the nation’s Public Policy show, those policy discussions are compelling for the preview day provided to the media, but don’t really move the needle when attempting to create excitement for the driving – and buying! – public.
I’m now wondering if the District of Columbia even deserves an auto show, given the proliferation of both 25-mph speed limits and red light cameras within the District. I believe it would be better to give the area auto show to one of the Virginia suburbs, where people need cars, like cars and have the space to drive them. And – not incidentally – a place to park them!